Guides and Tutorials
Starting a Small Town Community Newspaper
We offer the following only as a guide for you to start your own Small Town Community newspaper. While the general structure is informative, every person or organization has their own way of adding their own special touch to any endeavor.
- Initial Investment and Purpose
- Potential Income with a Small Town Community Newspaper
- The Small Town Community Newspaper Thinking
- How Often Should I Print?
- How Many Should I Print?
- How Big Should My Newspaper Be?
- Selling Ads
- Finding Content for Your Community Newspaper
- Things to Consider First
- Things to Consider Next
- Distributing Your Small Town Community Newspaper
- Growing Your Newspaper Business
The goal of a Small Town Community Newspaper is to serve a small town or community that does not have any real source for local news. Typically, a town with a population of 50,000 or less is the target for this particular business.
The initial investment of starting this new town newspaper may include the following:
- A mockup newspaper to show advertisers. 50 copies of a 4-page, color newspapers ($129).
- A registered trade name of your newspaper or business with the Secretary of State (optional, $10-$40).
- Time. Time to do the proper research, sell the ads, and design your newspaper.
A Small Town Community Newspaper can generate either a part time income or a full time income. It all depends upon the work and effort you’re willing to put into it. Generally speaking, your newspaper should have a minimum of 8 pages and be filled with relevant content to the people living in your community.
- Averaging 4 ads per page, you can sell 32 ads for an 8-page newspaper. Averaging $200 a sold ad, you can generate $6,400 of income each month. Your print costs for 10,000 newspapers would be approximately $1,016 and your mailing costs, if you mail them EDDM, should be somewhere around 18 cents apiece ($1,800). This means you would net $3,584 each month. You would need to sell 14 ads just to break even. However, you can do the legwork and distribute these without mailing them and save $1,800.
- Averaging 3 ads per page, you can sell 36 ads for a 12-page newspaper. Averaging $150 a sold ad, you can generate $5,400 in income each month. Your printing costs for 7500 newspapers would be approximately $900 and your mailing costs should be somewhere around 18 cents apiece ($1,350). This would net you $3,150 in profit. You’d need to sell 15 ads to break even.
- Averaging 3 ads per page, you can sell 48 ads for a 16-page newspaper. Averaging $100 per sold ad, you can generate $4,800 in income each month. Your print cost for 5000 newspapers would be approximately $800 and if you choose not to mail them, then there would be no mailing expenses. You would net $4,000 a month in profit. You’d need to sell 8 ads to break even.
Changing the number of ads you sell or the price at which you sell them will change these numbers. If you choose to mail your newspapers EDDM or find other ways to distribute them will also change the income potential. It may or may not be difficult to sell 32 to 36 ads each month. But even if you sell only half that number, you can still make a decent part time income.
With this type of newspaper, your goal is to create a needed service that fills a community need. You must think beyond the income or else your mindset will be swayed and diverted. Are you trying to connect your community to the local government, schools, or businesses? Are you trying to build a resource that points people to needed services? Are you looking to talk about news no one else is talking about? What makes your newspaper different, unique?
That’s the key. People can look around online to get the majority of their news, so you must offer something that no one else is. You want to fill a need. If you aren’t filling a need, you will probably struggle since people won’t have a need for your newspaper.
A successful small town community newspaper always fills a need. It looks to provide stories and information that would be difficult to get under normal circumstances. Once you know the purpose of your newspaper and what need you will be filling, you can get started.
You will want to start at once a month. Some people feel there is too much time that elapses and the news they provide will be outdated, but often that is just not the case. You will be writing about stories no one else is talking about. It will still be relevant. If you want to include information about upcoming events, then you just need to gather the information and provide it a month at a time.
Gathering content and writing the stories takes time. If you do this once a month, then it can be done by a single person, but the moment you go to twice a month or weekly, you are looking to expand your staff to meet the need. The operation becomes much more demanding at that point, and we recommend you only go to a more frequent distribution if you have the infrastructure to support it—and your readership is demanding it. Let demand dictate your frequency of printing.
You will want to reach the vast majority of households in your community, so the number to print will depend upon that. Do the research to determine how many households live in your community. If you intend to mail them, then you will need to be able to send one to nearly every home in the town. If you intend to distribute them in other ways, you might be able to get away with printing less.
We recommend starting with at least 8 pages. This way you’ll have enough space to sell plenty of ads and the expense between 4 pages and 8 pages is not much greater. Eight pages is a manageable number to start with. Consider that each page will average 750 words along with ads and images. So at 8 pages, you may need to write 6,000 words, sell up to 32 ads, and find 16 images that go along with your articles. At 16 pages, the work doubles, and printing monthly means this is still a one-person operation.
As you grow and you gain resources for your content, it will be easier to expand your newspaper to include more pages. We’ve found that over ambitious people often bite off more than they can chew and end up getting discouraged. Start small and let customer and advertiser demand grow your newspaper.
A Small Town Community Newspaper has the advantage of targeting everyone in town and probably in rural areas. Use this to help you sell ads for your newspaper. Start with business owners you know and then ask them for two referrals. You can then go armed with a name to pitch to the referrals.
- Be armed with as many statistics about the demographics of your town as you can. You need to be able to tell an advertiser the reach of your newspaper.
- Always approach the person who can pull the trigger on the ad. Don’t talk to an employee or a manager that can’t make this decision.
- Don’t be bothered when someone says no. That’s part of the deal. Shake that off and go on to the next one.
- Have a copy or mockup of your newspaper to show a potential advertiser. In fact, it may be wise to let the mockup newspaper contain all the information you would use in a sales pitch and then leave the copy with the business owner.
- Use contracts with discounts to lock down advertising money for consecutive issues.
- Try to sell more than just ads. Sell a written article about the advertiser or sell space for the advertiser to write an article of their own.
- Don’t forget to remind owners that advertising costs are tax deductible.
- Be excited about what you are doing. Impart your vision to the business owner and let them buy into both you and your vision.
- Read our Selling Ad Tips Guide for more help.
Gathering the content and news will most likely be your biggest challenge, even more challenging than selling the ads. You will need interesting content that matters to the families living in your community that has no other outlet. You don’t need to put national news in your newspaper. If local news can be found easily on TV or another source, then you will want to specialize in stories no one would hear about if it wasn’t for your newspaper.
Here are some ideas of where to gather content:
- From community contributors! In your first issue, make an appeal to anyone who wants to write or who has some information that others might find interesting—include kids in the offer too. Make as many people a reporter as possible. Offer incentives for those who will help write. Many people would just love to see their name in print.
- From local schools and government. Schools are a vital part of our society and community. Reach out to your local schools and ask them for news. In fact, you may want to contact your high school journalism class and get them involved.
- Use your demographics to suggest stories to write. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to write things that appeal to a specific demographic. If you know, for example, that there are a lot of young couples with children, then anything that appeals to moms, dads, and kids will be great content.
- Interview people. Everyone has a story, and when you let that person tell their story, you’ve just given them a reason to love your newspaper—and you’ve got content.
- Ask businesses, local churches, and local services to write articles for you. In many cases, you can actually sell the space to them as it gives them exposure.
- Make it easy for people to write or call you with information.
- Check out Places to Get Free Content.
Your first issue will be your hardest. You’ll not only be doing everything for the first time, you will need to do some things in the beginning that you won’t do later on. For example, it would be wise to make a mockup of your newspaper before you print your first issue. You will take this mockup to various businesses to solicit advertising from them. Here are some things to consider at the very beginning:
- Be ready to work hard. You’ll get out of this as much as you put in. This could easily become a full time job with a nice income, but the harder you work the more profitable it can be.
- Do the research into your community. Know the demographics. Know the dynamics involved. Learn about any relationships your community has with other businesses and entities. Know the key industries and what is important to the welfare of your community.
- Know the advertising market. Know how much you should charge for each ad. What are businesses already paying to reach your town? Know that you can offer them a means of reaching people no one else can offer, either through price, reach, or content.
- You want, if at all possible, to get your advertisers to email you their ad in a jpg, 300 DPI format. Some may not have this and either they or you will have to build it.
- You will need to familiarize yourself with design software and newspaper design. Have a mockup newspaper created and printed so that you have something tangible to show potential advertisers.
Once you have it going, it will be easier to maintain. Now you just need a constant flow of content and new advertising to replace or grow the ones you already have. Be constantly on the lookout for new ways to spruce up your newspaper. Look into adding contests and other interactive content.
Most importantly, learn as you go. Identify weak points where you can streamline, cut costs, reduce the amount of time you spend on simple things, and so on.
Look to get other people directly involved to reduce the workload on your shoulders. Get people to write articles, to send you photos, and to help distribute them if need be.
Mailing them to each household is ideal, but pricy. Advertisers will love the fact that their ad will end up in someone’s hands, not forgotten on a driveway curb or ignored in a rack somewhere. In addition, mailing will save you a significant amount of time.
USPS Every Door Direct Mailing Services can show you the exact number of stops in any particular carrier route. Saturate the routes that directly affect your town.
If you do not mail your newspapers, then you will need to find other ways of distributing them such as leaving them door to door, putting them in restaurants, libraries, waiting rooms, and so on. Our How To Distribute Your Newspaper Guide might be of help.
Once you are established and growing, you will want to continue to grow your business and brand. You may want to consider offering a website where those in the town could sign up for and get specialized content and even help provide you with content.
Ultimately, if it is working well, you can branch out into other small towns and continue doing what you are doing right now.
The following real newspapers created by our customers can give you an idea of what is possible. Check them out and feel free to use some of the design and content ideas in your own newspaper.